Here's a tip. If you and your bros ever decide to “never stop filming,” reconsider. Not the filming – make the most of that graduation present – but whatever epic trek you are about to take. Something unsafe, and perhaps undead, is about to happen.
'Afflicted' is the latest “we have to keep documenting” found-footage movie and, despite the likelihood you'll make, “yeah, yeah, hurry along” hand gestures at the familiarity of the opening, once things get cooking it's pretty good. If there's a line at the concessions counter and the movie's about to start, don't worry. There's nothing you need to know. Two friends on a round the world trip, one of whom has a potential life threatening neurological condition and needs to be “cautious.” There, now you have no excuse not to buy your date some Milk Duds.
Okay, so after 20 minutes of travelogue vamping the sick friend (Derek Lee as “Derek Lee”) is egged on by the main cameraman friend (Clif Prowse as “Clif Prowse”) at a Parisian bar and ends up hooking up with a woman. Later, Clif (and chums they meet up with) decide to perform a “Turkish Cockblock” by barging in on the randy pair. Turns out the woman has scratched and gnawed him up, leaving him dazed and bleeding.
As the two friends move on to a quaint and cozy town on the Amalfi Coast (these guys have some style) Derek discovers he has...powers. He can run fast, he can jump far and he can smash stones. Awesome! The bad news is he's given to debilitating stomach aches and a craving for blood. And then his eyes start getting weird.
It doesn't take long for these guys, who've seen enough stupid movies, to figure out that Derek has been turned into a vampire. But, Derek can't be satiated by cow blood from a butcher or even the warm blood from a snatched piglet (in a scene that is half-funny/half-scary and all disgusting.)
A twist comes about midway through that only a jerk would spoil, but I'll just say that Derek finds himself on the run and on his own. His only hope is to find the woman in Paris to see if somehow he can be changed back. That's when 'Afflicted' (which doesn't just star Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, but is written and directed by them as well) slyly uses the first-person gimmick to tell this story in a new way.
Derek, mid-transformation, is essentially Wickus from 'District 9' or Brundlefly from 'The Fly.' He's getting gross and freaked out about it. But with a GoPro camera strapped to his head, the skin searing off his hand when he holds it in sunlight really does feel like our skin. With cops chasing him he has no choice but to run through town in broad daylight. As we zoom through piazzas and jiggle through alleys, we hear Derek's pleas to be left alone mixed with the sound of his sizzling flesh. He has no where to run, and it evokes the escalating panic of a nightmare far better than the usual cheap horror film.
The mythology of Derek's specific vampirism is wisely left in the ellipses. We discover it as he discovers it – with a combination of fascination and terror. 'Afflicted' was produced independently, later bought by CBS Films, and no doubt the budget was low. But the special effects are effective. There's a present -ense quality that movies like this have – by skipping slow-mo or an emotion-rich score. Yes, there's the typical niggling questions with most found footage films (like the existential “so who's watching this?” and “who cut this?” problem) but if that's going to hold you back, you probably are also incapable of enjoying a movie about vampires.
'Afflicted' opens in theaters and on VOD on April 4.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.